Thursday, September 30, 2010

Homemade Bhoger Khichudi and Labra

The Bengali knows when Durga Puja is in the air. The air she breathes starts smelling of Balsams and Marigolds. The morning sun she basks in is a glorious hue of gold, and the evenings are nippy.

IMG_1530IMG_1551 In between the glory and the nip, she makes trips to Suleiman Tailor to haggle with masterji for not giving her halter neck blouse the right fit. She then rushes to Fabindia to get her husband a new kurta in royal blue for Ashtami. She knows he will wear it just once, but what the heck. He too needs new clothes, which are ethnic.

Far, far away, about seven thousand miles West of this Bengali is another Bengali who is terribly homesick, cursing the Fall chill, trying to keep her home warm with colors, candles and the flavor of Durga Puja delicacies like Khichudi and Labra along with Tomator Chaatney.

Now, khichudi, labra chorchori, tomato chutney and chaaler payesh are the essential items which are offered to Goddess Durga as Bhog (food offerings). They are always made by Brahmins (not necessarily cooks) and the Goddess gets it first. When the Mother Goddess is done “eating”, it is then shared with her children (us mortals).

Anyone who has had Bhog will say you cannot re-create those flavors and taste at home. Which is exactly the truth. Bhog is special because it is the God’s food, its marked by purity and dedication you put in the process of cooking. The methods are simple and the ingredients even simpler.

Ingredients for Bhoger Khichudi are:

1 cup Basmati rice, washed and sieved
Half cup yellow mung dal
2 medium size, ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
2 medium size potatoes, peeled and diced
Half a cauliflower, flowerets separated
Half cup green peas
1 heaped tablespoon of ginger paste
Half tablespoon green chili paste
2 teaspoons coriander powder
2 teaspoons cumin powder
Half teaspoon garam masala powder
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon red chili powder
2 bay leaves
2 black cardamoms
1 small stick of cinnamon
3-4 tablespoons ghee

Dry roast the mung dal on low heat until the kernels are lightly browned. Keep an eye on it, as the dal may burn easily. Keep it separate.

Heat oil in a thick pan, add the cumin seeds, bay leaf, cardamoms, and cinnamon. Sauté for a few seconds. Now add the cauliflower and potatoes. Get some color on them by frying them on medium-high heat for five minutes. Add the rice and mix well. Now add the spices – red chili, turmeric, coriander, cumin powders and the ginger and green chili paste. Mix everything well.
IMG_1799 IMG_1800 Add the roasted dal, chopped tomatoes and the peas. Pour enough water to cover all the ingredients. Season with salt and sugar.

IMG_1809 Let it cook on medium-low heat for 20-25 minutes, stir continuously. If you need to add more water, please do so. The Khichudi should not have to be dry, it should have a porridge-like consistency. Turn the heat off when the vegetables are cooked. Sprinkle garam masala powder and a little more ghee. Mix well again.

IMG_1815 You will now have a home cooked Bhoger Khichudi which might just suffice if you have no changes of having the original Bhog this year.

IMG_1810 The Bhoger Khichudi should be served with this mishmash of vegetables called Labra. An authentic Labra recipe has seasonal vegetables like sojne data, raw banana and sweet potato, but I made it with vegetables which were easy to find in a supermarket.

Ingredients for Labra are:

2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
Half a cauliflower, cut into flowerets
1 medium size eggplant, cubed
200 grams pumpkin or pepper squash, peeled and cubed
250 grams spinach, thoroughly washed and coarsely chopped
2-3 green chilies, broken from the middle
1 teaspoon paanch phoron
2 teaspoons turmeric powder
bay leaves
3-4 tablespoons mustard oil

IMG_1776 Heat mustard oil in a big pan, add the paanch phoron, bay leaves and broken green chilies. Sauté for 20-30 seconds and then add the hardy vegetables first – potato, pumpkin, cauliflower and eggplant.

Fry the vegetables on medium heat, till they get coated with the oil and paanch phoron. Add the turmeric powder. When the vegetables settle down in the pan a bit, add the chopped spinach, sugar (about 1 teaspoon) and salt. Cover and cook.

IMG_1779 The salt will help the vegetables release water by this time. Keep mixing everything well and make sure the spices do not stick at the bottom of the pan. Add a little water if needed. Finish cooking when the vegetables are a little mushy. 

IMG_1796 The Labra should have a thick gravy clinging to the vegetables.
IMG_1792Hope you are liking the ongoing Durga Puja celebrations on PreeOccupied. Please leave your feedback and comments here on what recipes you’d like to see during this festive month. Or send in your family recipes and watermarked photos at

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Tomator Chaatney, Bengali Tomato Chutney

If you haven’t yet noticed the ripe, plump tomatoes all around you, please do. Get some home and make this simple chutney, a Bengali is sure to swear by.

tomatoes Pree tomatoes Pree1 Traditionally, the Tomator Chaatney is served last in a typical Bengali meal, just before dessert. But I like to have it with my food. My favorite to go with Tomator Chaatney is hot khichudi with all its fanfare.

Ingredients for Tomator Chaatney/ Bengali Tomato Chutney are:

3 large, ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 heaped tablespoon of grated ginger
2-3 green chilies, broken from the middle
Handful of raisins
1 teaspoon fenugreek/methi seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 bay leaves
2-3 tablespoons Mustard or Canola oil
3-4 tablespoons sugar

Heat oil in a pan, add the fenugreek and cumin seeds, bay leaves and throw in the green chilies and raisins. Let them all pop for a few seconds before you add the coarsely chopped pieces of tomatoes and the grated ginger. Mix well.
The tomatoes will start getting soft and will release lot of juices. Season now with sugar and salt. Press the larger pieces of tomatoes with the back of your spatula. Cover and cook for five minutes on medium heat.


Check the seasoning and make necessary adjustments. This chutney is sweet! Remove from heat, let it cool completely before you store in a glass jar. If refrigerated, it can stay up to a week, that is if its not all wiped clean already.
IMG_1784 This Tomator Chaatney is also offered to Goddess Durga as part of the Bhog. A lot of people also add dates to this chutney for natural sweetness.

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Bhapa Doi, Steamed Sweet Yogurt

What’s that line in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps about greed being good and that someone just made it legal!? Its sheer greed that made me make this very traditional and surprisingly easy Bhapa Doi recipe. And its 100% legal to use condense milk, yogurt and milk in the same recipe. On the subconscious level, I also wanted to overcome that Mishti Doi disaster a few days ago.

IMG_1749 Today, my Doi karma was by my side. The Bhapa Doi is another Durga Puja special, where this steamed yogurt would be part of an elaborate mishti mukh spread after a meal on Ashtami through Doshomi.

Though I have a feeling its tough for this steamed version of sweet yogurt to compete with its traditional cousin, we call Miss Mishti Doi.

IMG_1761 Ingredients for Bhapa Doi/ Steamed Sweet Yogurt are:

1 can sweetened condense milk (I used a can of 300 ml)
300 ml half and half cream (you can use full cream milk)
300 ml Balkan style plain yogurt (unsweetened plain yogurt/dahi)
A few pistachios
Couple of pods of green cardamom

bhapa doi Pre-heat oven to 350° F. In a bowl, whisk together condense milk, milk (or cream) and yogurt. Make sure no lumps remain. (Make your condense milk can the measuring cup for this recipe.) If your yogurt has whey, drain that through a sieve or cheesecloth.

Pour the mixture into ramekins or baking dishes. Place the ramekins in a larger baking dish, fill that dish three-fourths with hot, scalding water. Make sure you don’t spill water into the yogurt mixture.

Bake for 30-35 minutes. Let it cool before you chill. Garnish the Bhapa Doi with some chopped pistachios and cardamom seeds. If you do not have an oven, try steaming the yogurt mixture in a pressure cooker for 20 minutes.

IMG_1759 IMG_1750 IMG_1765And remember to thank Goddess Durga (or whoever you pray to) for all the sweet things happening in your life!

IMG_1762IMG_1764 P.S. Are you part of this space for Durga Puja discussions, nostalgia, recipes and photos?

P.P.S. Have you sent your entries for Beyond Five Days of Durga Puja?

Monday, September 27, 2010

That ‘80s Chili Chicken

This is an old school Chili Chicken every young Indian Mother from the 1980s was christened into when it came to Chinese cooking at home.

Finely Chopped’s Chili Chicken metaphor rekindled the desire to do what my Mum – a Mother of two very finicky daughters loved to cook. Okay, make that one – the me who believed that gourmet food everyday was my birthright. In other words, I was the problem child. I choked on Ilish maach bhaja, vegetables made a pocket around my throat, and I was happy eating luchi-mangsho for breakfast, lunch and dinner. While Little Sis B drank her milk, ate her egg yolks with panache and even relished uchche bhaja.

That growing up ‘80s decade sure was fun, except for the bitter gourd part. The 1982 Asian Games, color television, Different Strokes, and cartoons which made sense.

I grew up in Patna, which had its share of Chinese immigrants. The men were dentists and their wives ran thrifty beauty parlours. Giving the uninitiated populace of the capital of Bihar the Lily’s and the Chang’s salons. The rest of the 40% opened restaurants. The best Chinese food memory from my childhood was this family-owned place called Hsin Long (Thanks Kaushik for the correct spelling). The food was the greatest a 12-year-old had had. One day, we heard the restaurant had closed, it is hazy why they shut shop. We heard the family had left town after paying a huge ransom for living in Bihar to the then gunda state government. That also ended our monthly outing to a great Chinese restaurant.

Which meant we were stuck for life with my Mum’s Chili Chicken, which went on to become a bestseller in our extended family.

IMG_1720 IMG_1725

Ingredients for the ‘80s Chili Chicken are:

500 grams boneless, skinless chicken, cut into bite-size pieces (I used thigh portions,which have the tenderness like drumsticks and the meatiness of breasts)
1 medium red onion, cut into quarters, peels separated
4-5 fat cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 bell pepper/capsicum, diced
6-7 green chilies, cut into little pieces
Half cup white vinegar
Half cup dark soy sauce
Half cup green chili sauce
2 tablespoons Canola/vegetable oil

IMG_1703 Marinade the chicken in the vinegar for about 30 minutes. I do this to make the chicken tender and also to remove any gamey smell from it. Drain the vinegar.

Heat oil in a wok and add the chopped garlic and green chilies. Sauté for a couple of minutes, do not brown the garlic.

IMG_1705 Add the onions and give them some heat. Let the onions turn pink in color before you add the soy sauce and green chili sauce.

IMG_1707 IMG_1708
Toss around the onions in the sauce and add the chicken pieces.  
IMG_1709 Cook for 5-7 minutes till the chicken becomes tender. Add the diced capsicum.

IMG_1710 Cook for another 5-7 minutes till the sauces dry up a bit. Serve immediately.

IMG_1712 IMG_1716 IMG_1718 IMG_1715

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Waltzing to Mutton Rezala

The mutton trip continues. This time to the delicately-infused, silken taste of Mutton Rezala. Now, I am pretty fuzzy about the origin and history of this dish. Absolutely unsure if it has Mughlai or a North Indian roots. Or Bengali. Guessing by the way it is eaten with a lot of gusto by pandal-hopping Bengalis during Durga Puja. That reminds me to check with you if you have sent your entries for Beyond Five Days of Durga Puja?

IMG_1687 IMG_1693
The aromatic Mutton Rezala does not let me drift much and I am back to writing how I made this great, Indian mutton dish.

I did the marinating last night. I had almost forgotten to add the pureed onions and then a few minutes into a Skype chat with Mum to re-check on the recipe and I realized my culinary boo-boo.

Ingredients for Mutton Rezala are:

IMG_1668 1 kg goat meat, bone in, cut into two inch pieces, as usual I opted for the shoulder portion of a baby goat
1 large red onion, pureed
1 cup plain yogurt (Balkan style)
5-6 fat cloves of garlic
A thumb-size piece of root ginger
10-12 cashew nuts
1 tablespoon poppy seeds/posto
2+2 green and black cardamoms
1 inch stick of cinnamon
Half teaspoon mace powder
1 tablespoon pepper powder
10-12 whole dry red chilies
3-4 green chilies, slit
2 tablespoons milk (you can use warm water too)
Few strands of saffron
Few drops of kewra
Quarter cup heavy cream
Half teaspoon sugar

Wet grind together ginger, garlic, cashew nuts, poppy seeds, and cardamoms. Marinade the meat with yogurt, pureed onion, all of the wet masala, mace powder, sugar, and salt for about eight hours or overnight.

Heat the ghee – about 2-3 tablespoons in a pressure cooker. Add the stick of cinnamon. Immediately add the pieces of mutton, shaking the marinade off. Mix well. If you are worried that the yogurt from the marinade will curdle on contact with the heat, turn the gas mark to the lowest and gradually crank it up.

IMG_1679 Slowly add the leftover marinade and mix well. Add the whole dry red chilies and pepper powder and cook covered for 30-40 minutes or pressure cook till 3-4 whistles go off. (Depending on the meat.)

IMG_1680 While the meat is being cooked, dissolve some strands of saffron in warm milk and keep covered.

Once the pressure has released and the meat has become tender, add the dissolved saffron and few drops of kewra. Cook on high for 5-7 minutes to infuse the flavor of saffron and kewra into the meat.

The flavor of Kewra is the hallmark in Mutton Rezala and it is important you add it. Check the seasoning now and add salt if necessary.

IMG_1682 Finish the Mutton Rezala with some slit green chilies and a little drizzle of heavy / whipping cream.

IMG_1686IMG_1692 My Mother would have served the Mutton Rezala with some Lachcha Parathas, just like during Durga Puja. But I am the lazy one, I chose to serve it with Naan. And no, I did not make them.